Alumni Spotlight - John & Kelly Hoyt

Partners in Adventure

By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist

The expression “two peas in a pod” is an apt description of John and Kelly Hoyt’s relationship. The couple, married 15 years, recently received their ATA (associate in technical arts) degrees in business administration from Everett Community College (EvCC), after taking nearly every class together over the last three years.

Driving daily to EvCC from their home in Sultan, the two found that they had to push each other to stay motivated.

“We were so happy we took those classes together because we understood what the other one was going through at that moment,” said John.

Following graduation, the two embarked on a new adventure together: running their own business. Three months ago, the Hoyts opened a corner thrift shop on Sultan’s Main Street, jokingly calling it their “fourth child” and “John’s mid-life crisis.”

“This is the largest thing we’ve ever done together,” John explained. “Honestly, it’s just fun doing this with her. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else; my wife is the only person I would ever trust to do something like this.”

John and Kelly met 20 years ago while living in California. After five years of togetherness, the two married. Upon returning from their honeymoon, they learned that they had both been laid off from their jobs.

“We lost our home, so we moved in with my mom,” John recalled. “That’s when we went on the road and got our feet back on the ground and started running.”

John became a commercial truck driver, making the Los Angeles to Yuma, Arizona, run six days a week. Then, as now, Kelly was at his side, as a kind of “GPS of the day,” John remembered. In 2003, John and Kelly visited Washington for the first time and fell in love with the surroundings.

“I’m like, ‘I’ve got to live here, look how gorgeous it is!’” John recalled.

Unbeknownst to John, the state was in the middle of a 50-day drought. When the Hoyts finally moved to the Sultan area that September, the rain started to fall.

“I thought, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’” John laughed. “But I absolutely love it.”

The couple was looking for a new adventure.

“We came up here to do something different,” explained John. “It scared the heck out of both of us, but we piled up the U-Haul and the truck, and moved up here, basically, with no money.”

John found work as an ironworker, a job he held for five years. Eventually, three sons were added to the family, so the family of five moved to a bigger home. John’s metal work ultimately lead to carpel tunnel syndrome in both of his hands, requiring surgery.

“When the surgery was done, the doctor said, ‘You cannot go back to work as an ironworker. I want you to do something else,’” John recounted.

Through the Department of Labor and Industries, John learned that he could attend school to establish a new career, while the department paid his tuition. That’s when Kelly decided she wanted to continue her education as well.

“I didn’t want to sit at home while he went to school,” she said. “So I filled out the FAFSA form to find out if I qualified for financial aid, and I did.”

John and Kelly wanted to become entrepreneurs. They originally set their sights on a saltwater business, a promising venture they were invited to consider by a friend in California.

“We realized it wasn’t feasible for us and that we needed the education. We tried walking into a big business, knowing nothing about it,” John explained. “You’ve got to know what you are doing. I knew enough to get me in trouble. I definitely didn’t know enough of the business side.”

The Hoyts ended up attending EvCC after researching different entrepreneurial programs at community colleges in the area.

“EvCC just seemed like it had the better program,” John said. “When I went there, people were more than willing to talk to me about it, and I felt comfortable walking right into EvCC.”

For Kelly, an important part of her college experience was the supportive environment at EvCC.

“The whole atmosphere seems like they’re there for you at EvCC, especially the faculty,” she said.

The couple agreed that one of their most helpful classes was English 97, taught by Jennifer Beebe.

“Not going to school for 20 years, you really have no self esteem when you’re sitting there with 19-year-olds right out of high school,” John remarked. “This woman (Jennifer) came to us and said, ‘Look, you guys are amazing for doing this.’ She built us up and kept building us up; she never once let us drop.”

In addition to Jennifer, the Hoyts positively rave about their other EvCC teachers, including Lynne Munoz, Juergen Kneifel and Pat Coughlin. It was while working through Lynne Munoz's "Intro to Business" course that John and Kelly hit upon a new business adventure.

“It actually started out with a Craigslist thing,” John laughed. “We found a boat on Craigslist for free, so we picked it up, brought it home, and literally turned around and sold it on Craigslist for $450!”

The two told one of their college instructors about it and received encouragement to keep doing it.

“He was saying to us, ‘why don’t you keep rolling with that and make a thrift store?’” John elaborated. “That’s how it all came about.”

 “About that time, our neighbors went through a foreclosure and asked us to take all of their stuff,” Kelly added. “Our garage was completely full and we couldn’t take anymore, so we got a storage unit and started filling it. We just decided to keep building inventory.”

The idea of starting a thrift store was taking root, but the Hoyts didn’t have a building. They paid $110 a month for storage, not yet sure what they were going to do with the inventory.

“We were looking at property and knew we wanted to be in Sultan,” Kelly said.

“It was like the light came on and we just went with it,” John added. “We had big ambitions.”

With childcare support and encouragement from John’s mom, who had moved from California to live with them, John and Kelly were able to devote more time toward transforming a corner location on Sultan's Main Street into their thrift store.

“We wanted everything to be remodeled as much as possible with refurbished goods, so we could save money. We tried to recycle and use everything we could get our hands on before we invested the money,” John pointed out.

The Sultan community has rallied around the Hoyt’s new venture, “pouring out their hearts to us in donations and cash gifts,” Kelly said. Part of the community’s involvement in John and Kelly’s venture may have been helped by the Hoyts’ desire to give something back to the community. The couple has pledged to donate a portion of the store profits to the senior center, as well as other local causes.

“I feel strongly about giving money to the seniors because I think other programs in our community don’t do enough for them,” John stated. “The seniors are the ones who helped build this town. We want to be able to spread the wealth, if we get it, and give it all the way around. People have just given us so much; I’ll give it back the best way I know how.”

The Hoyts have dubbed their enterprise, “Thrifty 4 You,” and like to point out that it is "a little store with a big heart." They plan to see a net profit by the end of their first year in business.

“We’re not going to get rich here,” John admitted. “But you can’t beat our prices. It comes down to cutting costs for our community. Everything in the store is for the customer, from the prices to the way the store is designed. It’s not about us, it’s about them.”

With the goal of making a difference in their community, John and Kelly admit that there are also challenges.

“For me, the most challenging aspect is dividing my time between the business and home,” said Kelly. “But just waking up and knowing that this business is all ours—even if I get out of bed grumpy sometimes—I look forward to being here every day.”

John agreed that the rewards of owning their business far exceed the challenges.

“Shortly after we opened, a little three-year-old girl and her mom walked by the store during a street fair,” he reflected. “The little girl stopped her mom dead in her tracks, held her there, and wouldn’t let her move. She looked at her mom and I heard her say, ‘Mommy, that’s where I bought my dolly and I love my dolly!’ That did it for me,” John smiled. “That’s my reward.”

After working hard to pursue their goals, John and Kelly are happy to offer advice to current EvCC students.

“The faculty at EvCC was amazing and always willing to go the extra mile,” John enthused. “We couldn’t have done any of this without the education. I honestly credit all of this (the business) to EvCC.”

Kelly added her own words of encouragement for students attending EvCC:

“You’re never too old to go back to college,” she stressed. “Don’t give up; it’s definitely well, well worth it in the end.”